Dennis Doyle vividly remembers the Sunday morning 15 years ago when a visiting Irish priest conducted Mass in Gaelic. Doyle, a third-generation Irishman, had never heard the ancient language of his ancestors.
"Something inside me stirred," said Doyle, an English teacher at Glendale Community College, and church pianist. "I woke up. I wanted to learn about my culture, my history. I began studying the harp. It's the national instrument of Ireland."
Today, Doyle, 37, is an acclaimed harpist, specializing in Ireland's traditional forms of music. He tours festivals and gives concerts and lectures throughout the country several months each year. Doyle will perform at the 16th annual Grand National Irish Fair and Music Festival, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center.
"Dennis is not only a fantastic musician, but he's also the director of the festival's entire traditional music section," said Terrance Anderson, president of the Grand National Irish Fair. Other performers at the fair include Patrick Street, Paddy Noonan's Irish Cabaret, Barley Bree's Irish Showband, Paddy Reilly and Eileen Ivers.
Traditional Irish songs date back 2,000 years. Unlike the popular pub songs of today, old-style music was exclusively for the aristocracy, Doyle said. A big change in Irish culture occurred following the Battle of Boyne in 1692, when the British defeated the Gaelic forces. "The Gaelic language was outlawed," he said. The Gaelic music of the upper-classes was driven underground. It was passed on and maintained by peasants, he said.
"Now it's Irish folk music. Sometimes it's called 'hedge school' music because the Irish couldn't study their language or music in schools, so they secretly gathered along the hedges to learn," Doyle said.
In addition to old-style Gaelic music, entertainment at the two-day fair includes storytellers, jugglers, magicians, Irish step dancing, theater readings, an Irish wolfhound show and the West Coast Connemara Horse Show, said Anderson, a Studio City resident and founding member of the festival.
There will also be gifts and food available.
"Our first year's attendance was about 1,500," he said. "We're looking at about 50,000 people now--not really surprising when you think about how many Americans have some Irish blood," Anderson said. "But it's more than that. The Irish have a joy of life that permeates the very soul. Just think about it. What's the one holiday that everyone celebrates? The wearing of the green--St. Patrick's Day."
\o7 The Grand National Irish Fair and Music Festival from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, 480 Riverside Drive, Burbank. Admission is $12, $7 for seniors, $4 for children 13 to 17 and free for children 12 and younger. For further information: (818) 509-8177.\f7